My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart, too, will rejoice; and my kidneys will rejoice when your lips speak upright things. Let your heart not envy sinners, rather those in fear of Yahweh always. For there is a latter end, and your hope will not be cut off.
In contemplating and seeking to interpret the imperative command to fear the Lord it is necessary to search the Scriptures to discover the various nuances involved in carrying out this biblical injunction. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments reveal that “fear” is a necessary experiential attitude that the people of God are to have toward Yahweh—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For the modern mind terms like fear and jealousy seem to have a negative connotation; however, these terms have important theological connections both to our attitude towards God (i.e. fear) and God’s attitude towards His people (i.e. jealousy). Fear can be a debilitating emotion when people are dealing with phobias of snakes, spiders, and elevators, but fear can also be a positive force towards preserving life such as seeing a shark at the beach, seeing a poisonous snake in the woods, or hearing a gun shot. Yet, the biblical definition regarding the fear of the LORD is to depart from evil and do good (cf. Psalms 34:11-14). However, there is a distinction which must be made, namely, (a) our personal way of defining good and evil (Proverbs 1:31), or (b) the ways and laws of God (Psalms 19:7-9; 119:1-176). Therefore, the Holy Spirit through the Word of God must speak for itself regarding the paths of life and death.
The Scripture declares that the beginning of wisdom, and the beginning of knowledge both have their roots in the fear of the LORD Yahweh (Proverbs 1:7; 9:10). In the Torah the command is given to honor the elderly and to fear your God—Yahweh (Leviticus 19:32). Additionally, the fear of Yahweh is necessary in order to keep His commandments, statutes, and judgments; and that this fear will prolong our days (cf. Deuteronomy 6:1-3). “The LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear Yahweh our God for our good always, to keep us alive as it is this day” (Deuteronomy 6:24). We see from these verses that the fear of the LORD (1) is for our good, (2) it prolongs our days, and (3) it enables us to keep the commandments, statutes, and judgments of God.
God’s covenant children are humbled and tested from time to time in order to do us good in the end (Deuteronomy 8:1-5, 16; Hebrews 12:5-11), so that we may walk in His ways and to fear Him (Deuteronomy 8:6). Yet, the spirit and essence of the Law is revealed in this word…“And now, Israel, what does Yahweh your God require of you, but to fear Yahweh your God, to walk in His ways and to love Him, to serve Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul…you shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with your very all (Deuteronomy 10:12; 6:5). Thus, “whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). So the Scriptures declare that God requires us to fear Him, yet not in an incapacitating fear, but in a way that gives true life to our souls through submission to His will by the Holy Spirit. Therefore, our spiritual growth in progressive sanctification is a constant training in learning how to fear Yahweh always (cf. Deuteronomy 14:23; Proverbs 23:17). However, what is the fear of the LORD? What does it actually mean? How can I actually learn to fear Yahweh always?
- The fear of the LORD represents an awe of the majesty of God – Deuteronomy 10:14; Psalm 22:23; 25:14; 33:18; 103:17. As we contemplate the universe above and the majestic beauty of the earth, the myriad creatures, the complexity of DNA-RNA, and to our bodies from organs, tissues, cells, molecules, atoms, and sub-atomic particles, namely all things being held together by God’s Sovereign Decree. So we declare with the Psalmist, “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well” (Psalm 139:14)
- The fear of the LORD represents a fearful dread – Psalm 96:9; 102:15; Proverbs 1:29; Isaiah 8:11-15; Malachi 1:6; 3:5; 2 Corinthians 7:9-12; Hebrews 10:26-31. Once we have received new life through Jesus Christ by His one offering, He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified (Hebrews 10:14), and in this new life there are times when our affections are turned away from God and our desires conceive and give birth to sin (Genesis 4:7; James 1:14-15). Thus, a life of repentance (Mark 1:15) is necessary to restore our confidence (1 John 2:28). Yet, there are times when we are to recognize the power of justice (Psalm 50:21) against unrighteousness, and this healthy dread is necessary from time to time so we do not degrade the holiness of God into a common thing. The Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF) in Chapter 14.2 on Saving Faith states, “By this faith, a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God Himself speaking therein; and acteth differently upon that which each particular passage thereof containeth; yielding obedience to the commands, trembling at the threatenings (cf. Ezra 9:4; Isaiah 66:2; Hebrews 4:1), and embracing the promises of God for this life, and that which is to come. But the principal acts of saving faith are accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification, sanctification, and eternal life, by virtue of the covenant of grace” (WCF 14.2).
- The fear of the LORD represents a continuous consciousness of God – Deuteronomy 14:23; Psalm 36:1; Proverbs 2:1-5; 23:17; Malachi 3:16. To have a fear of God actually means to be aware of God. To be aware of God reveals an immediate knowing that we are subordinate to God since we are His creation. To know that we are subordinate to God means that all “Blessing and honor and glory and power be to Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever” (Revelation 5:13). However, this conscious awareness of God can have a blend of the dread and fear associated to Yahweh’s holiness, as well as an intimate nearness of His Fatherhood and provision from the majesty of His glorious works. Additionally, there are eight processes given in Proverbs 2:1-4 which ultimately lead to an understanding of the fear of Yahweh and the discovery of the knowledge of God. These eight processes are (1) receiving God’s Word, (2) treasuring His commands within, (3) inclining our ear to wisdom, (4) applying our heart to understanding, (5) crying out for discernment, (6) lifting up our voice for understanding, (7) seeking wisdom as if it were silver, and (8) searching for wisdom as if it were hidden treasures. These eight actions have been summed up by Jesus when He commands us to ask, seek, and knock (Matthew 7:7-11; Luke 11:9-13).
- The Fear of the LORD represents the instruction of wisdom, namely, the way of life – Joshua 24:14; Psalm 34:11-16; 103:17; 128:1-4; Proverbs 14:25-27; 15:33; 16:6; 19:23; 29:25; Jeremiah 32:37-41. The commandments, laws, ordinances, statues, judgments, testimonies, and words of Yahweh are revealed and given unto us so that we may learn to do good and seek justice (cf. Isaiah 1:16-17), seek peace (cf. Psalm 34:14), to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God (cf. Micah 6:8), while also departing from evil, and keeping our tongue from corrupt communication and our lips from speaking deceit (Psalm 34:13-14; Ephesians 4:29-5:7). God has ordained what is good and evil, and the paths that He has commanded us to walk in are for our good and well-being, and length of days; therefore, we are to fear God because reproofs of instruction are the way of life (Deuteronomy 5:16; 29, 33; 6:3, 18, 24; Proverbs 6:23).
As we begin to absorb the sweetness of God’s Word and allow it to dwell richly within us we will cry out to be “cleansed from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit” we will begin to experience the “perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). The fear of the LORD is an important factor in our spiritual communion with God, because (a) it gives us wisdom in the way we should walk (Psalm 34:11-14), (b) it gives the ordering of the right relationships we should have toward ourselves (Proverbs 1:31; Jeremiah 17:9-10), others (Psalm 118:8-9), and with our Creator (Psalm 27:1-3; Habakkuk 3:17-19), (c) the fear of the LORD Yahweh is a means of grace for communion with the Most High God, and (d) the Holy Spirit which indwells all adopted children of God, also represents the Spirit of the fear of Yahweh (Isaiah 11:1-2). Therefore, allow the fear of the LORD to be a driving force for your obedience to God. Let us go forward and “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).